Friday, September 11, 2009

Bags of Bad Brakes Land in My Parts Department

In the mid 1990s, Shimano produced the Altus CT 90 cantilever brake, a masterpiece of flawed design.  Out of the box it worked reasonably well, but the return springs were anchored in plastic collars.  In a fairly short time, the stress of the springs and the deterioration caused by sun and weather weakened the collars so they cracked, rendering the return springs useless. It was part of the component group that included the cranks that snap off.

Shimano never publicly acknowledged their mistake, but they made collars available free of charge to bike shops that bothered to call and ask.

I asked constantly.  I don't believe in looking the other way when riders get stuck with an inferior product.  If the manufacturer will take the hit and provide repair parts free, I will be first in line.  I still spot Cranks of Death.

A few years ago, Shimano stopped offering the collars for free.  I immediately stopped fixing the old CT 90 brakes.  Tektro and Shimano offer a cost-effective replacement brake for little more than a couple of sets of collars.

When the Tektro and Shimano brakes went out of stock at our regular suppliers late in the summer, we picked up a couple of sets by Alhonga. BAD MISTAKE.

Alhonga has cloned the crappy CT 90 brake, complete with the stupid plastic collars!

We used a set on a repair, but only with full disclosure.  I have been advising customers to wait for the return of the good products if they can.

Things took a serious turn for the worse when the parts buyer brought me six bags of the Alhonga pieces of crap.

"We need to have something in stock," he said.

We already had a set of the Alhongas in stock, which was plenty enough to gather dust as far as I was concerned.  I refuse to install these brakes when I know I'm setting the customer up for the same problem caused by the CT 90s.  We're supposed to be CURING the customer's problems, not giving them second helpings.

A certain amount of shit will hit the fan when I have to blatantly refuse to install this ill-chosen crap.  It won't be the first time.

Ultimately it's for the best not to use inferior components to bail yourself out of a jam.  Installing parts you are pretty sure will fail WILL bite you on the ass, AS IT SHOULD.

I'm not looking forward to this discussion.


RANTWICK said...

Ethical people can be hard to come by. Stick to your guns, man; I'm sure most customers will truly appreciate your candor.

Doohickie said...

Interesting. I have a 1994 Nishiki Sport XRS as my primary commuter. I bought the bike one year ago, but it was NOS with the original store price tags; never ridden. I found that it had the Shimano "death cranks" and got those replaced earlier this year. So now I have bad brakes, too, huh?

cafiend said...

Rantwick, I definitely put myself out there as a pain in the ass who cares too much about the little things.

Doohickie, your brakes may not be from the same groupo. Only the Altus brakes had the cracking collars. Models above that have cosmetic plastic covers over the springs, but the springs themselves anchor into metal. You have to look closely.

Ham said...

On the brake front, an unrelated question - do you agree with this assessment of the qualities of pads? I've bought the soft ceramic pads off these guys and they are OK except that they only last about 1,000 miles. Also, the stopping power is only about that of the original Avid's. Wondered if you knew what type of compound that is? So, if I went for sintered or hard carbon, if I'm going to lose out on the braking power....

And if you are thinking whaddya need those fancy disc brakes on a bike for?, consider London in the winter. They're good, combined with a tyre that sticks to the road in the wet (Continental Speed Contacts)

cafiend said...

I haven't made a deep study of pad compounds. By the numbers, the hard ceramic wears extremely well and will still stop somewhat decently. Your experience seems to bear out the assessment of the soft ceramic as one that stops very well but wears out very quickly.

If I started using a cargo bike I would put cable disc brakes on it. I just can't warm up to hydraulics in my simple-minded world.

Ham said...

Thanks, I thought you might have personal experience of them. As it happens, having got reasonably used to fettling discs now, I think I'd prefer hydraulics on the basis they are simpler. Ask me again after I've had to change seals.

cafiend said...

Ar! Ar!Ar! (seal barking)

Boones Farm said...

You review/description of the trike is buried in social commentary and sparae at best. Go mack, ride it again and give us a candid no holds barred review.

Unknown said...

Hey can you give any more information on what a suitable replacement for the cursed BR-CT90 would be? I know you said the Shimano/Tektro alternative has become hard to find, but Ive got a useless trek 820 collecting dust and I'd love to get it running again. Anyway, what was that "alternative" anyway? Shimano and Tektro's website arent the most forthcoming with usable information asides from pretty pictures.

cafiend said...

Henry -- I'm not sure how hard to find the Tektro clone or the actual Shimano CT91 replacement for the CT90 really are. We did experience a shortage, but now the brakes appear to be back in stock at our two regular suppliers. Keep looking. That being said, any standard cantilever, like Tektro Oryx or similar models from Cane Creek and elsewhere will work fine with your current brake levers.

Be sure to check your Trek 820 for the notorious "Cranks of Death," the 1995 Altus CT90, Acera M291 or Alivio MC12. Free replacements are still available. Be warned, though. The recall kit they're sending now is pretty cheesy. You'd be better served to buy a newer crank with good replaceable chainrings.